I know I keep talking about spring, but it's so exciting when you stop fighting it and accept it how it is...I know because I have spent way too many years fighting it. I had it in my head that spring was supposed to be warm, green and beautiful. Well, it is already that way in Oklahoma! But here in the north, it has been rainy, cold, windy and dreary. While we are trying to stay warm inside, the world is exploding outside with new growth. The birds are mating and nesting. The trees are budding out, the tulips are up, the lilac bushes are forming clusters of blossoms ready to bloom when the sun shines. The world of nature is providing us with foods rich in vitamin C, vitamin A, and minerals that our forefathers would have been in need of. You don't need to live on a farm to find some of these free foods. They are often considered weeds and grow in alleys, roadsides, fence lines, abandoned yards or railroad paths, bike paths, riversides, and parks (if allowed). Here are a few of my favorites and some recipes.
Lambs Quarters, dandelions & other greens Lambs quarters are my favorite spring greens. They taste wonderful, are easy to find, high in vitamins A and C. Pick young leafy stems up to 10 inches tall or the tender growing tips of older plants. Much like spinach, you want to pick a lot because cooking greatly diminishes the bulk. Simmer leafy stems in a small quantity of water about 5 minutes until tender. Add butter, salt and pepper or a sauce of 1/4 cup diced onion, 4 slices crisp bacon, chopped fine, 1/4 cup vinegar, salt and pepper, simmered gently. Or use this sauce on raw greens as a salad dressing. This plant produces far ahead of garden greens. Here is a fun place to explore and has great photos of lambs quarters: http://www.theprairiehomestead.com/2012/07/when-life-gives-you-weeds-eat-em-or-what-to-do-with-lambs-quarters.html
Dandelion is a plant that is quite diverse. You can use the roots, leaves and blossoms. I have made a coffee replacement using roasted dandelion root and it was good. BUT, I love my coffee. This year I am committed to making dandelion wine. Here is a recipe from Granny's Recipes, Remedies, and Helpful Hints by Jean Cross. "Take one gallon yellow flower heads, best freshly gathered on a sunny April day, midday before the bees gorge themselves on the pollen; throw the flowers into a large tub and immediately pour over them two gallons of fresh boiling spring water; let the mixture stand closely covered 48 hours, stirring occasionally with a stick. Then put it to the fire and boil fifteen minutes with the peels chopped fine of two oranges and two lemons. Strain through a hair sieve (?) onto five pounds of lump sugar; and add the juice and pulp of the oranges and lemons. Pour the mixture into a cask of sufficient size to hold the quantity of wine; cool and add one half pint of yeast; cover the bunghole (?) over with a flannel cloth while the mixture works, filling the cask daily with additional mixture as fermentation casts out the impure articles. When it clears and the wine be still, rack into clean bottles and stopper tightly. Let stand in a cool place, or ale cellar, til December or, even better, till late the next spring." I know there are better, simpler recipes online, but what fun to read the language and methods of the past! Do you know what a hair sieve is like or a what a bunghole is?
Other greens There are lots of other wild greens available: pigweed, chicory, stinging nettle, violet greens and much more. The book I use for wild food hunting: Edible Wild Plants A North American Guide. It covers the entire US and has pictures as well as descriptions, recipes and tips on how to use each plant in what season. Use caution with wild foods, especially with children.
Mushrooms are a class of their own as far as wild foods. You must know what you are doing as there are some mushrooms that are poison (as with many wild foods) but there are many edible mushrooms that can add significant variety to our meals. I like morels because they are easy to identify and taste superb.
I think it's a little early for morel mushrooms, but those little jewels in the woods never tell us when they are going to arrive. When should I start looking and where? "Great question. Narrow down your region’s season for starters. Once you have determined that “yes” they are out there then the adventure begins. Many seasoned hunters have their favorite areas. Dead or dying elms, old apple orchards, old ash, poplar trees and yes even pines. It truly can be a hit and miss adventure at times. Not every elm you cross will have morels around it so don’t get discouraged. Depending on your region, you may have to look harder than others." fromhttp://www.thegreatmorel.com I love to eat them fresh from the woods, sizzled in butter with a little salt, but the website has many recipes and ideas as well as info on false morels, more tips for where to look, and lots of enthusiasm. What a great day in the woods.. Have fun!!
Fresh Fish I know this guy doesn't look very good, but it tasted great!! Our neighbor down the road called up and asked if we would like some bullheads. We said sure!..without knowing that they were still alive and needed cleaning. That's OK. I grew up trout fishing and had to hook my own worm and clean my own fish. Worth every minute. Our neighbor showed us how to 'skin' the bullhead, but I decided to try leaving the skin on. They felt the same as a trout..no scales. And the skin was delicious. It sure saved me some time. Spring fishing is great because the water is so clean and fresh and so are the fish. A day out fishing with the family...priceless!